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SAG/AFTRA Chicago Local President Charles Andrew Gardner Discusses How he Started Acting and More

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SAG/AFTRA Chicago Local President Charles Andrew Gardner (OLYMPIA, THE CHI, CHICAGO PD)  has been spending a lot more time online these days because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The actor took some time to talk with me about how he started acting over Zoom. His most recent project Long Ride Home recently made its U.S. Premiere this past weekend via online streaming at the Oscar-qualifying Cleveland International Film Festival, following up a North American Premiere at the Toronto Black Film Festival. A critically acclaimed short film that takes place in Charle’s hometown on the south side of Chicago, where two African-American men engage in dialogue while ride-sharing, causing one of them to realize the difficulty of escaping their circumstances because of systemic oppression.

Growing up how would your childhood friends describe you?

Aw man it’s funny that you ask that. I went to this spot called ETA in Chicago. It was a theatre where you could do plays and then also it was training for younger kids and also adults. I started there when I was nine years old, they use to call me “Serious Charles”. One of my acting teachers told me later on because I was always so serious about the craft. I wouldn’t be playing around, not too much, you play around as a kid. Just really focused on the art, and I think they would describe me as serious and about my business.

When did you decide pursuing a career as an actor was for you?

It came in waves you know? I knew when I was about eight years old that I wanted to be an actor and thats how I ended up at ETA.  I saw a play there, “Kasimu & The Coconut” Palm and I begged my mom to put me in classes. And she did when I was nine. So I knew that was that at that point.

And then I had another phase right when I was in college. And it wasn’t really wasn’t to keep going with acting. I had been acting since I was nine and I told my mom I wasn’t going to go to college and she was like “nah, then you aren’t going to be able to stay in this house”. So I went to college, but I had a moment where I was like do I go and try and pursue without a degree or do I go and get a BFA and go that route. I’m really glad that I did go get a BFA. Those are really the two times that are just like this is what I’m gonna do.

Tell me about your first audition?

At ETA we wouldn’t really audition for the roles. It wasn’t until I was going into my freshman year of high school and I’d done from 9-14 their Saturday student performances. Then they had a play where they were looking for a thirteen year old actor for their MainStage. I auditioned for that and I got it!! I felt confident because I was using all the skills I had learned for the past couple years and one of my theatre teachers was the director so I felt comfortable.

What about the first time you booked something?

I’m gonna say that. That was the first time. I think about booked in the since of being paid for what I’m called to do. It was that gig, it was “This Far by Faith”. It’s funny cause I keep all of my scripts from when I was nine years old to now. I kept them in these little green folders and I would put the year and the play and all of that, on that one I drew a couple dollar signs on it cause I got paid to do that play. It was a milestone in my young career.

Whose been your biggest supporter along the way?

It changes. I think that my mom. Being a working class black person in Chicago and this country is messed up because we don’t have access and opportunity to follow our passions if it costs. So, for my mom to see that in me at a young age and support me and put me in these classes that cost money that could have been going to something else. Thats the most support that I ever had in my life, from that early age.

And then when I got married a couple years ago, my mom is still my support, but my wife man, she’s the person in the house running lines with me. Helping me get auditions out, helping me prepare for auditions, helping me create the people I’m going to portray on film or on stage, helping me make decisions. Just talking out business aspects around being the President of SAG/AFTRA. Bouncing ideas off of her and that type of support right now in my career and where I’ve been and where I’m gonna go.

*this interview has been edited for brevity. For the full interview check out the youtube video at the bottom

Check out some of Charles Andrew Gardner’s past work:

Check out the full interview and don’t forget to subscribe to my youtube channel:

Follow Ryan Glover (@actorrglover) and Charles Andrew Gardner (@charlesandrewgardner) on Instagram

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